Find Me Their Bones – Sara Wolf

Princess Varia of Cavanos watches me with the eyes of an amused wildcat. Eyes that should by all accounts be dead. And yet here she is, blinking them and making them crinkle up with her beautiful, slow smile. A single naked realization rings like a deep bell in my head: Varia is alive. She stands right here in front of me—the daughter King Sref of Cavanos mourned so deeply. The sister Prince Lucien of Cavanos missed so dearly. Next to me and yet away from me, Lucien takes a single step forward, reaching for her with a shaking hand. “Varia. You’re…” “Alive?” she finishes for him softly. “Yes.” “This isn’t—” He walks toward her. “This isn’t some magic trick by a witch? I’m not dreaming?” Princess Varia looks around at the pile of bodies at my feet, the blood staining the grass, and the pale yew tree blotched red. “If anything, it would be a nightmare.” Her dark eyes roam over the corpses to rest on Gavik’s body, his glassy eyes blood-smeared and lifeless. “But, since the archduke is dead because of it, I’d call it a pleasant one.

” Lucien reaches Varia, the two of them like dark-haired, sable-eyed, golden-skinned mirror images of each other. The same proud hawk nose rests on each of their faces, the same long lashes and razorsharp cheekbones and brows. My feet won’t move; my lips won’t form words. She’s dead. She’s supposed to be dead, killed by Heartless like me five years ago. Lucien reaches up and touches his sister’s shoulder, hesitating at first, as if he’s scared to dispel an illusion. But his fingers meet her robes, and he inhales sharply. “You’re alive. Really alive. I looked for you, for the Tree you talked about.

I looked everywhere for it, hoping beyond hope I would find you—” Varia smiles at him gently, the same smile King Sref gave me when he and I met while looking at her death portrait—knowing and regretful all at once. She rests her forehead against Lucien’s. “I understand that it’s hard to believe,” she murmurs. “And you did well. But there will be time to explain everything, especially now that Gavik has been squashed.” She pulls away and her eyes roam to me. “You there, Heartless.” Lucien’s gaze faintly drifts in my direction, and the joy in his face dims. In a blink he sends up that hard, indifferent shell—his princely shell, the one I worked so hard to penetrate. The one the witches demanded I slip past and steal the heart from even as my own was torn in a million directions.

“Who do you belong to?” Varia asks. It hurts to answer her, to breathe. The locket around my neck feels like it’s full of lead. “Nightsinger,” I manage. “The witch Nightsinger.” I catch a glimpse of my hands soaked in blood, the taste of it still on my tongue. The things I did—I can’t bear to look around me. If I see it with my own eyes, it’ll become reality. How many bodies? How many men with families and children and dreams? I ate Gavik, his throat— I can’t look. I can’t look.

And you thought you could escape me, the hunger sneers. You can’t even resist me. Look at what you’ve done— Vomit burbles in my gut, and I choke out a plea. “P-Please, Princess Varia. Get Lucien out of here—away from me. Before I turn again.” Lucien’s midnight eyes, full of searing affection for me not an hour ago, are so cold now. Unreadable. He doesn’t speak, or move, or glance in my direction at all. He is a statue.

In its place in the jar over Nightsinger’s witchfire hearth, my heart must surely be bleeding. But I knew. I knew it would end like this. Varia smiles at me, pity clear in her eyes. And yet there’s more than just pity there—something inquisitive, something strange. “What shall we do with her, Lucien?” Varia asks him. “She betrayed your trust, didn’t she? I saw that much.” Lucien looks at me then. He looks—thank the gods he looks—but I’m not reflected in his eyes. I am glass, a window he’s merely peering through.

He’s furious. He must be. I burn to beg him to forgive me, but I’m long past forgiveness. I knew that the moment I put on this dark dress to take out his heart. No. I knew that the moment I first laid eyes on him at the Spring Welcoming, and I certainly knew that as I was tearing into the lawguards and Gavik, who threatened his life. I knew it every moment of our time together. I had every second to prepare for it. So why do I still arrogantly hope for a happy ending, even with the blood of a dozen men on my hands? Because you’re selfish. The hunger slathers rock salt into my wounds.

Lucien turns, the sight of his back driving me mad in an instant, and the precipice my two halves teetered on for fourteen agonizing days suddenly rips away, tearing me down the middle. “Don’t!” I cry out. “Don’t leave! Please, Lucien…don’t leave me.” My words ring in the heavy air. Selfish and mad, the hunger taunts. What human would stay after what you’ve done? There’s a beat, an unbearable moment of crushing nothingness, and then… “How could I leave something I never had to begin with?” Lucien asks. His disappointed voice is an ice blade snaking through my veins, freezing me solid, every word stabbing me. Disappointed in me, in what I’ve done, in himself for believing in me. But he wastes no more time on me. He turns to his sister.

“She should be questioned.” “By us?” Varia blinks. He nods. “The truth should be known.” My stomach churns wildly, but Varia just sighs. “You realize Father won’t tolerate her in the city. She’s a Heartless. He’d sooner burn her over and over.” His obsidian eyes flick to a distant tree. “Unless you convince him.

He’ll listen to you, even if it’s to spare a traitor’s life.” Traitor. I sink to my knees. Is that what I am to him? Why isn’t he demanding I be punished, then? Why isn’t he demanding I suffer for the lies I’ve told him, the deceit I’ve woven around his heart? Varia sighs, then laughs under her breath. “The Lucien I knew would never care about a traitor’s life, let alone ask his sister to beg their father for it.” “People change,” Lucien says. “Or they don’t,” Varia shoots back. “And they just want to bed a pretty thing.” Twisted shock rises in me. Our kiss in the tent hours ago had dripped with longing.

Is that why he’s being so merciful? Nightsinger chose me to seduce him because he has a type—even now, even after being betrayed, he wants to keep me around to use me before he casts me aside? The prince doesn’t deny it. He doesn’t deny it, and instead his face softens minutely, fists unclenching. The Lucien I knew—no. He wouldn’t. He could. The hunger slithers through me. He is nothing more than a human. Selfish, greedy, lustful creatures. “This isn’t the time for argument, Varia,” he says. “You’re alive.

Let’s go back. Father and Mother will be so thrilled to see you.” “Give me a moment,” she says. “There’s something I must do first.” I watch hollowly as she walks over to the remains of Gavik’s body, pulling a velvet bag stitched with black words from inside her cloak. I don’t want to read them, I don’t want to do anything but sit here and rot in my own misery, but she bends and picks up something soft and leaking and red, and it’s then I realize it’s Gavik’s heart she’s dropping into the bag, a bag that reads LEECH. “It’s funny.” She laughs softly from her place kneeling in Gavik’s blood. “I’ve been carrying around this bag for years, hoping I’d get the chance to use it. And now I am.

It doesn’t feel real.” Varia darts her black-glass eyes to me. “You understand, right? Wanting something for so long and then standing on the edge of getting it.” “Yes,” I croak. She sighs, and I pinpoint the strangeness in her gaze then. The way she looks at me is almost…hungry, as if I’m a shiny coin and she is the crow who’s spotted me on the cobblestones. “Let me guess: the High Witches dangled your heart in front of you? Your heart for my brother’s.” My head snaps up. “How did you—?” “Because I know them.” She laughs, brittle.

Lucien’s voice slips between us. “What are you talking about?” Varia throws him a look over her shoulder. “I knew Gavik would kill me eventually. Every day he stirred up more fear in Vetris, no matter how I tried to stop him. And every day he grew stronger for it. His cleverness and cunning outmatched mine. Father liked to think the royal family was untouchable, invincible back then. But I knew the truth.” I knit my brows, the sudden flash of light from Gavik’s mangled corpse nearly blinding me. Varia doesn’t blink, her dark orbs soaking the light unflinchingly as she speaks.

“There’s a saying in Avellish: Three enemies means two of them are friends. Gavik hated me— he knew that when I took the throne, I’d never allow him to have as much power as Father did. But Gavik hated witches, too. So I sought them out.” She smiles over her shoulder, her pink lips two halves of a brilliant rose. “Father wouldn’t protect me. He relied on Gavik’s advice too much to drive him from the court. So I had to protect myself.” She breathes out, long and soft. “I wanted to inherit the power promised to my witch bloodline.

But how could I do that, with so much hate for them in our city? The crown princess, asking to meet with the witches? It would’ve never been allowed. I knew better than to ask Father—I couldn’t go through him. I had to go around him.” She holds up her graceful hand. All five of her fingers wiggle, even though all five of them are made out of wood. Sleek, polished wood, seamlessly melding with her flesh and moving just like it. She shifts the hem of her long robe in the mud, and where the flesh of her left leg is supposed to be is the same smooth, living wood, bending with her movements. “I faked my death with a few body parts. Sacrifices had to be made to convince the world—and Gavik—that I was dead.” “But…” Lucien’s hawk profile intensifies, all the darkness on his face drawing together.

“Your guards—” “Like I said, brother.” Varia’s voice is clipped. “Sacrifices had to be made.” The nobles’ whispers from weeks ago haunt me—parts of her were found on the road, and all her guards were dead. Torn apart ruthlessly, like a Heartless attack. That means she—she killed them, tore them to pieces to make it appear just so. The prince looks more stunned than I feel, his face slack and his brows knit on Varia’s silhouette. “They won’t be forgotten.” Varia speaks up again, a new strength in it. “There’s a lot I’ve missed, but if I’m to stop this looming war and save our people, I can’t miss anything ever again.

Do you understand, Lucien?” The glow on Gavik’s body begins to fade, his flesh I bit and tore apart mending in front of my eyes —shins fusing to knees and skin covering the gaping slit in his belly. Lucien’s still riveted to Varia, and then he nods slowly. “Yes.” Horror starts to dawn brighter than my despair—Gavik is healing. His heart in a bag, Varia as a witch—I clench my fists, looking around for my sword. I can’t find it in the blood-soaked grass. I killed him. He’ll want revenge as I wanted it against the bandits who murdered me. He’ll be flush with anger, with the monster’s strength. He staggers to his feet, the glow mending his vertebrae one by one until his neck snaps back into place.

Then Gavik’s face swivels to me, long white hair whipping and his every tooth jagged. The monster claws through his skin, nocked straight at me like an arrow, his steps quick and heavy. I shield myself with my arms even though I know it’s futile; Gavik’s cruel eyes pitch-black from corner to corner and suffused with hate, bloated with bloodlust, his claws bursting through his fingertips and his limbs cracking as they elongate. He’s hideous. He is terrifying. He’s me as I was not seconds ago. “Enough.” Varia’s voice rings out, but Gavik keeps stalking toward me. “I said, THAT’S ENOUGH.” It’s just two words, and yet they’re pitched so low and so loud that they rumble in my chest.

She’s a slim, shorter woman, and yet those two words are spoken with all the weight of the world turning. The pain I’m expecting never comes. Gavik is frozen above me, his monstrous, unnaturally tall body not moving a single inch, though his eyes burn and blink down at me. Varia steps up from behind him and smiles at me, a smile too bright for the carnage around us, for the blood-soaked monster just in front of her. “I apologize about him. You know how Heartless get when they’re first turned.” Over her shoulder I see Lucien, clutching his sword’s handle with white knuckles, his glazed eyes now wide and frozen. Fear frostbites his very lips as he stares at Gavik’s monstrous frozen spine. Varia just commanded Gavik the way Nightsinger refused to with me. She has total control over him.

I swallow and rise to my trembling feet as the princess looks me up and down. “It’s settled, then. We’re keeping you. Father won’t be happy about it, but I’m sure I can—” “Zera!” A voice suddenly cuts between us—Malachite. I turn to see his paper-skinned, lanky figure standing on the edge of the clearing, a curly-haired girl with a cane at his side. Fione? “Lady Zera!” Fione calls, both of them running toward us. Fione’s expression is fuzzy in my exhausted vision, but I clearly hear her choke on her next word. “V-Varia?” At my side, Varia’s smile grows like the sun rising over a hill. Exhaustion grips me—iron shackles clamping my lungs. The world becomes a blur of green grass and Malachite’s snow skin and Lucien’s and Varia’s identical midnight heads of hair and Fione’s fractured words like a stream—“A spell, a trick, no, it can’t be!”—and then the sensation of someone catching me before finally, mercifully, darkness.

2 Unborn Again You would think I’d be used to waking up in strange places by now. But the truth of the matter is that no one really gets used to waking up alone. There is bleary panic and utter confusion, until all the brain parts in my skull settle into place and remember for me: I am Zera Y’shennria, and I have betrayed the Crown Prince of Cavanos. A prince whose sister is still alive. A prince who knows I’m a monster. we are going to be punished. The hunger laughs, somehow quieter and more even than ever, not a trace of the instability I had after I got cut with Lucien’s blade anywhere to be heard. at last. Lucien’s cold gaze haunts the backs of my eyelids, the void of my unheart threatening to expand and swallow me whole. No.

I am Zera Y’shennria, niece of Quinn Y’shennria. I have many weaknesses—a well-made silk dress with just the right number of ruffles, the idea of family, the idea of my heart, a warm cup of chocolate drink and a slice of cake. But I won’t allow myself to be weakened by despair. I shoot up to a sitting position, my spine supported by something soft. My eyes take in everything slowly, methodically: plush carpets, fragile curtains, maroon velvet and white lace adorning every inch of the room. I’m on a sofa propped between a mahogany table and an ironwood sitting chair. Vases of fresh lilies bloom next to gold sandclocks and strangely childish dolls with real curled hair and miniature silk gowns. The room has a haze of dust to it, as if it was tended to but never considered fit to live in. Until now. I don’t recognize the room, but I recognize the walls—how could I not? The pale cream color, the lavish embossing: this is the royal palace in Vetris.

How did I get here? I try to shift my legs to the floor, but something metal yanks me back into place. Chains. Someone’s cuffed my arms and legs to the feet of the impossibly heavy ironwood sofa. “Well,” I say up at the ceiling, “this is new.” I rattle my chains. “Secure. I kind of like it.” There’s a pause as the ceiling seems to stare down at me questioningly, and I experience several riveting seconds of my new stationary life. “Okay,” I decide. “I hate it.

” I twist my entire body, rocking against the cushions. I might not be strong enough to break the chains, but if I can reorient the couch— My stomach flips as I roll one last time, and the couch heaves, tipping over and sending me crashing to the ground. The cushions smother me, and I cough and blink up at the couch now firmly on top of me. The chains weren’t beneath the couch at all but rather hammered into the ironwood legs of it.

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